dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

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Algorithms can be Stacked Against us

December 3rd, 2021 by dk
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New York City passed a bill last month that will ban employers from using automated hiring tools unless a yearly bias audit can show that their algorithms won’t discriminate based on an applicant’s race or gender. It’s our nation’s first attempt to regulate those invisible snippets of code that are beginning to rule our lives.

Meanwhile, Oregon in August became the first state to ban so-called “love letters” from prospective homebuyers. Letters from buyers help a seller choose between multiple offers in a hot real estate market. But they also could violate fair housing laws by revealing a buyer’s race, religion, sexual orientation or marital status.

New York wants to preserve humans making hiring decisions. Oregon wants to limit human factors in life-changing financial decisions. Should an employer consider how a hire will fit with co-workers? Should a home seller favor a buyer who is more likely to match the neighborhood? These difficult questions pervade society, just barely beneath the surface.

They became personally relevant last week, as my son and his wife were in the maternity ward at Riverbend Hospital. They were told they could leave with their new little bundle of joy, but things would go easier if “bundle of joy” had a name first.

They had narrowed their choices to about a dozen over the months. They asked friends to offer their opinions or to add more names. They insisted that the child himself should somehow participate in the process, so they purposely delayed their decision until after he appeared to cast his vote. Until last Tuesday, they knew his sex and his kicking ability, but little else.

As an eviction from the hospital became imminent, they chose the name “River.” The name flows easily with no hard stops. It’s an unusual name, but not unheard of. The name would be easy to say around the house or during play dates. They would enjoy having a River around for the next couple of decades.

That lasted about five minutes. (This is important.) Even though “River” had always been included on their Baby Name Bingo card, it wasn’t until they gave the name to the child that they considered how it would shape him. It sounds like a stage name. They began to imagine his first job application or career opportunity. “River” could hurt him.

They switched his name to “Calvin” instead. It sounded more serious. Being named after a philosopher who shaped the American imagination isn’t so bad, whether it was a dour French theologian or a mischievous character from the comics page.

How will it go for Calvin in a world that’s dominated by algorithms? He will grow into his name because the world will make assumptions about him. They’ll often know his name before they meet him. That might not be the fairest way to design a world, but it’s the only world we’ve got. Make the most of it, Calvin! I’m sure you will.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com. Kahle owned the Comic News for ten years, so a progeny named after a cartoon character isn’t much of a surprise.

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Fun With Numbers: COVID Will Win, Unless…

December 2nd, 2021 by dk
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The latest coronavirus variant reminds us that we’re losing the race to adapt. This strain might not prove to be resistant to our vaccines. It may not be as virulent as the delta variant. It may not be the deadliest version of COVID-19. But a future variant will be all three, gravely endangering humanity, unless something changes soon.

As long as the virus finds humans as hospitable hosts, it will mutate and multiply in the direction that allows it to continue. Natural selection will favor versions of the virus that inhabits humans because genetic adaptation through mutation is its only survival strategy. If we continue battling on the same basis, the odds against us are daunting.

The SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) genome is a single strand of RNA. The coronavirus inhabits healthy human cells and hijacks the cell’s mechanisms to reproduce. The virus multiplies its genetic material with a viral “copy machine” called a polymerase. One virus-infected cell can produce hundreds to thousands of viruses. One infectious human hosts somewhere between a billion and a trillion copies of the virus.

Without precautions, one person can lead to a thousand people getting infected in a month, a million in two months, and the entire human population in less than four months. We’re looking at more than a quintillion (a billion billion) copies. Each copy offers the possibility of a mutation that makes it deadlier for humans.

Meanwhile, humans have a genetic code that is infinitely more complex than a single RNA strand. We reproduce at a much slower rate, to say the least. Approximately 140 million human babies were born on the planet in the past year. Combining these factors, the virus can adapt in a week what will take humanity at least several centuries.

If we’re in a genetic adaptation footrace with the virus and all its variants, we’re going to lose. But that has been true for millennia. Humanity rose to the top of the heap with an entirely different survival strategy. We don’t alter our genetic code. We change our behavior with shared intent and collective action. We cooperate.

Put another way, if our goal is to preserve individuals’ lives and habits, we’re doomed. The numbers above show that’s a virtual certainty. But if our goal is saving our species (which will requires multiple adaptations on the part of individuals), we got this! Herd immunity uses numbers to our advantage. If the virus can’t replicate, it will disappear or find a non-human host that does us no harm.

We simply cannot succeed individually. We gain advantage only collectively. Our collective success will last longer than the individual changes required.

I wondered how long a single SARS-CoV-2 strand can survive inside a human body. Every answer (14-37 days) I found referred to its collective presence, but never one single infected cell. We’re thinking about the virus collectively and humanity individually. We have to flip that script.

It’s genes versus memes, math versus meaning, the parts versus the whole. Which side we put ourselves on will determine the outcome.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Honor System Assumes Honor

November 28th, 2021 by dk
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More Americans have died from COVID-19 this year than last. Despite vaccines, masks, and other available precautions, Americans are dying faster. It’s not just the pandemic. Vigilanteism is rising. Violence is seeping into formerly safe places — jogging through a Georgia neighborhood, cheering the Boston Marathon, voting in Congress, clubbing in Florida, parading in Wisconsin.

Society has been fraying for decades, but it’s no longer at the edges. When grandkids can’t safely watch a holiday parade from the curb, it’s time to recalibrate. Our former president openly embraces authoritarian solutions. Republicans can’t resist it and Democrats can’t stop it.

Strongmen see America’s end as well underway. They were sure a multi-cultural country devoted to open information and fair elections couldn’t last. They’re only amazed that we kept things controlled for as long as we did.

Democracies under threat have never been so high, according to a report by Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). “More countries than ever are suffering from ‘democratic erosion’” and “backsliding.” The report blames populist politics, COVID restrictions, and disinformation campaigns.

We’ve wrestled with gun violence for generations. Drug and alcohol abuse has shortened many lives. We consider addiction an illness, protecting us from having to confront it ourselves. But now it’s not safe at a parade? How do we get the toothpaste back in the tube?

I stopped for gas near Lebanon last week. The convenience store posted signs that masks are required, but every customer except me was ignoring it. Worse, a couple of those customers looked askance at me, like I was a weakling or a traitor for following the rules. They don’t disregard the governor’s order; they disdain it (and her).

I’ve written this before. We can’t expect law to preserve order. We need order first, leaving law to correct disorder. But we can’t have order if we don’t respect and even trust one another. A street curb was a boundary every motorist agreed to. Election results could be disputed, but eventually were considered final. Win or lose, we moved on, together.

Why do governors have the authority to tell convenience store customers to cover their faces? Because we’ve given them that power. They have the consent of the governed. Our system will collapse quickly without it.

Pandemic deaths are higher where masking is ignored and vaccination rates are low. That’s not politics. It’s barely math. It’s more like arithmetic. Add protections or subtract lives.

When the pandemic first started, I assured friends that the vaccine would fix the problem. People might want to argue about masking and school closures, but logic would prevail once the life-or-death decision was theirs to make for themselves and their family. I was wrong. 

And there’s nothing we can do about it. Enforcing mandates more stringently smacks of authoritarianism. Persuading skeptics requires trust and respect that’s fraying around and now through us.

Even vaccine passports won’t work, as they have elsewhere. Forgeries are too easy. Enforcement falls to the lowly paid. We’d rather believe in an honor system, except without the honor.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Renaming Oregon’s Rivalry Game

November 26th, 2021 by dk
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The Oregon Ducks host the Oregon State Beavers this weekend for their 125th rivalry football game. Both university presidents agreed to stop calling it the Civil War — a moniker not suitable for a friendly tete-a-tete between scholarly neighbors.

The game is currently referred to as the Oregon Classic (as it was known until 1937), Oregon’s rivalry game, or the football game previously known as the Civil War. I thought we could do better, so I asked around. Facebook friends and I came up with 75 alternatives. You can add more.

Civil War Redux – Some crafted correlatives to the Civil War, pointing forward and back at the same time. For instance: Oregon War, The Latest Indiscretion, The Polite Discourse, Kill or Be Killed, The Tribal Bowl, Research and Destroy, The Uncivil War. 

Generic Names – In the end, this is a branding battle. (Hey, that would be a good name!) Can Oregon’s best branding brains work with one of these? The Good Game, The State Game, The Oregon Bowl, Us vs. Them, Sports Ball Showdown, Pigskin Pickle, The Oregon Prickle, Clash & Dash, Left Overs, The Turkey Bowl, Kerfuffle, Concussion Conclave, A Confederacy of Dunces, The It’s Just a Game Game.

History and Culture – Most sportscasters (except Bill Walton) don’t know our history and culture. Why not make them learn some? Try these: Hemp Bowl, The Oregon Biggie, FurtherDome, The Tie-Dye To Do, Nike Corp vs. Knockoffs, Loggers vs. Farmers, The Burgerville BlackBerry Shake Bowl, Rich Kid Rendezvous, The Toilet Bowl. (Remember 1983? That game has its own Wikipedia page.)

Location, Location, Location – Most national TV viewers have never been here. A good name could tell them what to expect. Samples: The Hwy 99 Bowl, I-5 Itch, The Valley Stomp, Willamette River Rivalry, The Willamette Valley Tacklefest, The Willamette Melee, Willamette River Wingding, Rye Grass Rumble, The Turf War, Blackberry Brouhaha, Crab Cup, The Upper Left Bowl, The Specific Pacific Game, Riparian Rip, Subduction Zone Sweepstakes.

Climate Clarions – We’ve traditionally used our climate to repel visitors. Here are names that Tom McCall would have loved: The Muddle in the Puddle, The Allergy Bowl, Boss of the Moss, Fescue Fracas, The Better Wetter Game, Best of the Wets, Slugfest, The Reign in the Rain, The RainBowl. (Climate activist Shawn Boles suggested the CO2Bowl, acknowledging that football won’t be around much longer.)

Messing with Mascots – The most popular category played on our whimsical mascots. Some are disarmingly direct: Interspecies Bowl, Fowl vs. Rodents, Castor vs. Canard, The Anatidae Castor Fray, Duck Duck Goose, Tail Off, Quack & Chew, Quack Chuck Fracas.

Other mascot-inspired names require extra thought: Waddle vs. Whittle, The Slap-Waddle Bowl, The DamWaddle Cup, Battle of the Paddle, The Platypus Cup, Platypus Bowl, Extreme Platypus Action, Who’s More Platypussy?, Feathers & Fur, Fur’n’Fowl Growl, A Quack in the Dam.

And the Winners are … – I like Rainbowl best if we can spell it “Rainbow’ll,” painting our November sky with an optimistic future. Turf War fits us, but we’re avoiding militarism. My first choice is Slugfest because outsiders picture a battle, but we hear it as a celebration.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Quantum Quandaries Emerging

November 22nd, 2021 by dk
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The challenges and opportunities ahead as computers become ever more powerful are coming more clearly into view. Count me among those who are not surprised at how well novelist and humorist Douglas Adams anticipated them. Artists and comic often speak the truth before anyone else.

The bandwagon is getting fuller by the day. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt has partnered with Henry Kissinger to author a book about the challenges. Kissinger is 98 years old. He’s strategizing the coming clash with Artificial Intelligence as if it will be the last war any of us will ever wage. He might be right.

I’ve written almost every year about how we are leaving behind the Age of Enlightenment, without any confidence about what will replace it. Kissinger, Schmidt, Elon Musk and others are warning us that AI will sneak up on us if we’re not careful, rewriting the rules for civilization without our consent.

I hope the next epoch is organized around empathy, a decidedly human trait that’s beyond the ken of calculations. As futurists become realists, it’s beginning to look like emergent properties may be the frontier we’re entering. It’s very like what Adams anticipated in his “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” in 1978.

Leave aside Artificial Intelligence for a moment . Consider the consequences of quantum computing. IBM announced this week it has built a quantum computer that couldn’t be matched with a conventional computer unless that computer was larger than our planet.

Although Adams anticipated that factoid quite accurately, it’s not the interesting part. According to IBM CEO Arvind Krishna, this super-duper-computer is not adept at computations in the traditional sense. That would be too easy. This quantum computer won’t calculate as much as ruminate.

We’ve used computers to solve problems but not to wonder how a problem could be solved. Big difference!

To review, Adams’s characters asked the most powerful computer to give them “the answer to life, the universe, and everything.” The answer was “42.” Understanding the question was exponentially more complicated, keeping his characters busy for three more volumes.

Kissinger and Schmidt posit that computers soon will give us answers before we understand the questions. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin before anyone understood how microbes and cells operate inside the human body. We learned what works before we learned why.

With that in mind, mysteries abound. How do starlings execute their mesmerizing murmurations, flying like a three-dimensional marching band producing an amazing halftime show, but without a conductor? How can humans reverse or adapt to global warming? And everything in between.

Finding answers to unimaginably complex problems will be the easy part. Thoroughly understanding the questions being posed will be new. If quantum computing fulfills its promise, we may soon send it searching for the emergent properties behind self-organizing cities, coordinated starling flight patterns, and human consciousness.

Each is beyond the scope of calculations. The results emerge — as if by magic. The whole is literally greater than the sum of its (calculated) parts. We may soon be envisioning the most hopeful future for our planet since 1650 — and terrifyingly so.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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“Housing First” Requires More From Us

November 19th, 2021 by dk
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I almost never return quickly to a topic I’ve covered. Word limits don’t allow much depth. A weekly slot is built for breadth. So many issues impact our lives and conversations. I try to touch as many as I can. But rules are made to be broken, so I’m back for a second bite from the proverbial apple.

Two weeks ago, I wrote that we will never solve homelessness if we view that population as a monolith. I divided them into seven groups. To sum up that essay in a single paragraph, here are my suggested (constantly shifting and overlapping) categories: mentally ill, addicted, distressed, opportunists, confused, predators, and sympathizers. (If you didn’t read the original column, we’ll add a link at the end.)

Readers offered me more than the usual amount of feedback, which I always appreciate. Since crudely lumping people into overly simplistic subsets seems to be the order of the day, responses fell into one of three themes.

The first group thanked me for that slicing and dicing, because it gave them permission to be fractionally less upset when they passed by the tents under bridges and along thoroughfares. Each felt sympathy was appropriate for some but not for others.

A second group wanted to roll up their sleeves, but wondered how best to proceed. Many liked prioritizing veterans, especially if assessment strategies could then be replicated in the larger unhoused population. They noted that assessments this nuanced and continuous will be very expensive. Prioritizing veterans could prevent social services from getting overextended, at least until funding can be substantially increased.

The third group of readers likewise asserted that assessments will be exorbitantly expensive, but they also saw them as unnecessary. Giving priority to any portion of those in need is demeaning to the rest. Other nations (where some of these readers live) have found it cheaper to put a roof over every head than to assess the population as intensively as the problem requires.

I’m bringing the responses into public view to make it a discussion. A fortnight ago, I argued that the varied causes of homelessness defy any single solution. Today I’m noting that our responses to the problem are similarly variegated. Comic strip Pogo’s wisdom endures: “We’ve met the enemy and he is us.”

Experts determined decades ago that “housing first” is the most cost-effective way to end homelessness. Life on the street induces its own trauma. That becomes intertwined with the originating cause or causes. Remove this complicating factor by adding a locked door and some reliable warmth, and things settle down. Those seven categories I proposed become much less fluid. Assessments remain necessary, but they can be less intensive/expensive.

This is the point where we have to look in the mirror. Are we willing to give opportunists and predators a pass because it’s cheaper to house them than to isolate them by assessment? Is our resentment of that possibility more than we can handle? Then the problem will remain unsolved. And we’ll know why.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com. Read Kahle’s earlier column on this topic at http://www.dksez.com/homeless-assess/ 

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Will Autzen Become Too Woke?

November 12th, 2021 by dk
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If you cheer for the UO Ducks tonight in Autzen Stadium or from your living room, you should know there’s been a controversy brewing around the pep band and one of their signature chants. How the matter is resolved may determine the future of human civilization.

I’ll get to societal doom in a moment. But first, a short book report. William Rosen’s “The Most Powerful Idea in the World” (2010) features an awe-inspiring locomotive with steam billowing from its stack on its cover.

Much of the book is about the steam engine, yes, but Rosen deftly guides his readers to a deeper understanding of the industrial revolution. The “most powerful idea” was not the steam engine itself, but England’s ground-breaking patent law. Once successive inventors could have their improvements protected, civilization iterated upwards.

Before patent protection was introduced, there were no incentives to improve previous designs. Inventors were usually wealthy gentry or had patrons who were. Complex machines couldn’t be perfected by most individuals in a single lifetime, so inventions stayed relatively simple. Patents acknowledged and rewarded constant improvement.

The benefits of patented ingenuity are all around us in Eugene.

Soreng Concert Hall: Edgar Soreng didn’t invent the washing machine in 1944. He devised a solenoid with plunger used in every machine to prevent the tub from overflowing. King Estate Winery: Ed King’s grandfather didn’t invent the airplane, but his instrumentation is used to land every plane. Nike: Bill Bowerman applied for his first shoe design patent in 1974.

Now to the doom and gloom. Or in this case, the litter of Glitter.

Gary Glitter has never been to Eugene, as far as I know. His glam rock song “Rock and Roll Part 2” topped the British pop charts in 1972. Also known as “The Hey Song,” it’s been part of the UO pep band’s repertoire since the 1980s. You don’t know the words students gave to the instrumental tune — only the part where everybody yells, “Hey! Go Ducks!” That’s just as well.

Glitter was convicted of downloading child pornography in 1999 and of child sexual abuse in 2006. The NFL instructed teams to avoid using the infectious song in 2012. Should the University of Oregon promote the creative work of a convicted pedophile in Autzen Stadium? Many are saying, “Hey! No!”

Glitter sold the rights to the song years ago, so he’s not getting paid every time it’s played, but that’s cold comfort for some. Any affiliation with a sex offender becomes a new offense. Here is where cancel culture and Rosen’s thesis take us in opposite directions.

Rosen shows that modern civilization couldn’t have happened without a system that protects and compensates each contribution to improving a complex machine. Every part of the whole is protected.

Today’s cancel culture claims that if any part is tainted, the whole must be dismantled. To follow Rosen’s parlance, cancel culture is “the most dangerous idea in the world.” Anything that could be better must be abandoned, including a fan chant at football games. It will only accelerate our surrender back into tribalism.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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What’s Causing The Great Resignation?

November 11th, 2021 by dk
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Everybody’s talking about The Great Resignation. Three percent of all American workers  quit their job in August. Labor markets are roiling like we’ve never seen before. What’s going on?

Digging into the data, the largest disruption is among those in their 30s and 40s. Entry level jobs have always had a high churn rate, so the banners hung on seemingly every fast food establishment don’t tell the real story.

I did notice, for what it’s worth, that television ads are still recruiting new customers roughly 100 percent of the time, while franchisees are trimming their open hours because they can’t hire enough staff. Couldn’t at least one corporation use their scheduled ad spots to tell workers what a great employer they are? Sales promotions will only increase the burden on already overworked employees.

That’s certainly the company’s right, but those employees are increasingly recognizing their own right to walk out or not show up. Burger-flippers quitting their jobs is no surprise. When managers give up trying to find replacements and walk off the job themselves, that’s something new.

As with so many things, this cascade began with the Baby Boomers — notably those who were delaying retirement. Faced with learning Zoom and working from home, many decided to call it quits. Or they didn’t decide, but the surveillance metrics used by their companies showed that they weren’t performing.

Add the tardy retirements to those Boomers who were aging out on time and you have an unexpectedly large evacuation from the labor market. When companies began calling workers back to the office, more slippered Boomers chose retirement.

Losing so many tenured employees so quickly has had a ripple effect. Up-and-comers lost their mentors or their advocates and protectors. Once the person who hired and trained them announced their departure, the same option looked attractive to those who still have years ahead in the workforce. Economists have invented a term for this: “quits multiplier.” Workers are faced with doing more work with fewer colleagues. Instead, they join the quits.

Some have blamed pandemic relief checks and extended unemployment payments that accompanied statewide lockdowns. As data continue accruing, this argument looks only partially correct. States that ended relief earlier have seen no corresponding drop in resignations. So it’s not the money itself.

Pandemic relief gave some more money, but the bigger change has been on the other side of the ledger — fewer expenses.

It’s the money we can’t spend and the distractions we don’t get by spending it. How much money couldn’t be spent over the past 20 months at bars, restaurants, and concerts with friends? How much time did that leave people, alone at home, contemplating their lives, their careers, their futures?

You can binge-watch Netflix for only so long, when your workday has already given you hours of screen time. Curling up with a book or magazine — or worse, your own thoughts — becomes a surprisingly attractive option.

And then, along comes popular culture, coining a title and giving it capital letters. Suddenly, you see yourself in The Great Resignation narrative. The quits multiplier continues.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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A Frightful Fleet of Friday Fripperies

November 8th, 2021 by dk
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Fifth Friday footnotes, follow-ups and far-flung fripperies:

  • Do you have “touchless” Halloween giveaway plans? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of neighborhood revelry?
  • I have a new theory about the Ducks’ football strategy. Winning games is less important than winning ratings. If they always keep the fourth quarter interesting, TV networks will nudge the playoff selection committee to include them.
  • Old sheets feel better than new ones.
  • Corner medical clinics that advertise “walk-ins welcome” are discouraging those with lower limb ailments.
  • I think dogs dream and cats don’t.
  • I’m told grandparenting is what makes parenting worth the trouble.
  • Is it better to believe that you raised your children well or that you raised them thoroughly? (It’s an honest question.)
  • Before you store your warm-weather clothes, empty the pockets first. You’ll thank me later.
  • You should walk through your neighborhood occasionally. You’ll notice different details. You’ll also be seen differently.
  • I need a mask clasp on my jacket sleeve, like what our mothers used to keep us from losing our mittens in grade school. How many times have I left my house maskless by mistake?
  • I can see why those taller Sprinter vans are popular, but what took manufacturers so long? We haven’t suddenly gotten taller or more annoyed with bumping our heads.
  • Beauty shared is beauty squared.
  • People pay attention when I’m pithy. They get a thinking feeling. (Now read it again but without a lisp.)
  • Next time you drive to the store, try choosing a parking space that isn’t closest to the front door. Park beside a car that’s the same color, or under a light pole,  or beside a stray shopping cart — anything but the single criterion you’ve always used. Report back.
  • Power is not the coin of this realm. Not security. Even money — literal coin — is not. Stories (gathered, told, repeated) matter most.
  • How long has it been since you uttered to word “nope”?
  • Is it treason to unlawfully stop a traitor?
  • When the world is your oyster, where will you find enough lemon-dill butter to enjoy it?
  • Here’s what’s great about following college sports. These are 20-year-olds, give or take! Success comes from an unpredictable mixture of skill and drive that they haven’t fully learned to regulate.
  • When you hear or see the word “avid,” what word do you expect next?
  • Is it too much to ask for someone to know my vulnerabilities and not exploit them?
  • Can I claim plural pronouns for a bit? I’m regrouping.
  • Shop at the Self-Evident Store, where shorts are always half off, all watches arrive on time, and every hat sold reduces our overhead.
  • Quantity is no substitute for quality, unless there’s enough of it.
  • A boy who finds a needle will never look at haystacks the same way.
  • At any given moment, 90 percent of the world’s babbling comes from brooks and babies. Fun fact!
  • Acknowledge your fears. Don’t obey them.
  • What if we woke every morning knowing whose dreams we appeared in overnight?
  • I like my neighbor’s all-purpose greeting: “What’s good?”

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

Extras:

  • I talk like people write and I write like people talk. It’s an odd existence.
  • “The Problem with Jon Stewart” is brilliantly named.
  • How long before people start painting curbs near their house yellow because they don’t like others’ parking habits?
  • I learned this from one of my business ventures. Google has run away with the email business. I ask otherwise random customers for their eddress (not a word, but it should be) and at least three-quarters use gmail.
  • As long as we have bigots among us, complaint-based code enforcement will be discriminatory. ACLU?
  • Obama learned too late that “shovel-ready” projects were seldom that. Child income credits are immediate and direct.
  • What would it take for Eugene to become the most welcoming town in America for Afghan refugees? The kindness initiative didn’t really take hold, but this would give it teeth.
  • I may not be thinking this one all the way through, but why don’t they make a toothpaste flavored like chocolate birthday cake?
  • Essential, a company that has produced (almost) nothing has been purchased by Nothing, a company that has only one (non-essential) product. 
  • My entire childhood was spent replacing D (and sometimes C) batteries. Now my life revolves around AAs (and sometimes AAAs). You?
  • Did you know the original Dick Van Dyke Show theme song has lyrics, written by Morey Amsterdam? True!
  • Do you know what “elgins” are? Look it up if you don’t already know the long and skinny of it.
  • We should have been suspicious when stores popped up selling just one thing that’s designed to last years. Phone stores shouldn’t exist.
  • Not all elected officials are “politicians,” strictly speaking. But every reelected official is.
  • What if the most democratizing force available to us has nothing (or very little) to do with voting, elections, or democracy?
  • Scientists have learned that COVID-19 is not transmitted as easily by touch as they originally assumed, but the fear was already imprinted. So we still have cups for clean pens and dirty pens.
  • A choice involves its chooser. A decision does not. Anyone else would have made the same decision. No two people make the same choices.
  • How much revenue is Starbucks missing by not promoting bone broth or some other late-afternoon drink for those sensitive to caffeine and sugar?

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Build Back Better: Confused on Childcare

November 7th, 2021 by dk
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Much has been written about Republicans messaging better than Democrats. Almost no one explains why that is. Simply put, Democrats have an additive culture. Their instinct is to add more elements to please more constituents. Republicans regularly pare any proposal back to its essence.

Take childcare as an example, because it figures prominently in President Biden’s Build Back Better package. It features four programs to benefit children, but in competing and self-contradictory ways.

Democrats want to extend the pandemic-inspired Child Tax Credit. It has slashed child poverty in half by sending direct payments to families raising kids. They also initially proposed 12 weeks of paid family leave, which is common in most other advanced economies. 

Each of these programs would make it easier for a parent to be home with their child. Meanwhile, two other proposed programs would do the opposite — sending children out of the home for care and instruction.

Universal pre-kindergarten has been on the liberal agenda for decades. Biden’s proposal would start public education for three- and four-year-olds. Coupled with subsidized daycare, Biden’s original plan promised to save a typical American family $27,800 per year in childcare costs.

Can you see the contradictions here? Parents would be allowed to take several months off from work to stay home with a newborn, while the child’s siblings are sent off to daycare or pre-K. Who is best suited to care for young children — parents or professionals? Which is it, Democrats?

This may sound like Republican talking points, but the internal contradictions are there to be exposed.

The technocratic solution is to outsource child-rearing to professionals as soon as possible. It’s more efficient. It can be regulated. It levels the playing field. It meets an immediate need. (In most states, the cost of childcare is now more than in-state tuition at the local public university.)

The opposite tack would give families the amount currently earmarked for pre-K and childcare subsidies, greatly expanding the Child Tax Credit. Would it be enough to make single-earner households viable again? Having a stay-at-home parent increases a child’s chance for success as much as early education interventions.

Democrats could help families raise their own children, providing the resources to make that possible. Even if Republicans refused to join the effort, dubious debates about Critical Race Theory would disappear. Parents would feel less exhausted and less frightened. With less financial stress, marriages might even be saved.

Scouting and neighborhood youth programs have been shrinking because families have less free time, but also because adults are not available to volunteer. Neighborhoods are more vibrant when children are home and wanting to play together with other kids on the block. Families become acquainted through their children.

The question must be what’s best for the children? You could characterize Democrats’ childcare conundrum this way: cash or credit? They could give families cash so they have time and energy to raise their own children. But then they wouldn’t be able to take credit for those children’s later success.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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